“There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating
themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.”
I was reminded of this wise and wistful quote tonight for a very special reason. My husband David treated me to a wonderful night out at the theatre. We saw The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. What music! What lyrics! What a story! “Summertime,” “I Got Plenty of Nothing,” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So” — these are some of the classics I heard in full swing tonight. What a pleasure!
But what struck me most about the show was the timeless, universal nature of its story. It’s set in “Catfish Row” in Charleston, South Carolina. But in one sense, it could be anywhere. Life happens on “Catfish Row” just as it does in my own town: babies are born, people work, friends help each other, people pass away. But most timeless of all is the love triangle of the beautiful Bess, the crippled Porgy, and Crown, Bess’s n’er do well lover. And observing them all, ever-ready to tempt and torment, there is the character of Sporting Life — a devilishly appealing engine of destruction.
We see Bess love her man, leave him, fall in love with Porgy, try to make a new life for herself, find herself drawn back to Crown, and finally fall prey to drugs and the glamorous allure of New York City that Sporting Life represents. As this tragic love story unfolds, it raises timeless questions that touch us all: Can someone ever really change? Can someone be attracted to two wildly different lovers? Why do we so often choose a dangerous, destructive path in life when a more wholesome, productive path also lies before us? How much forgiveness can we find in our hearts for someone we love who’s betrayed us?
In the end, it’s these universal themes that make Porgy and Bess so appealing. And when we see Porgy all alone on the stage ready to start out for New York in search of his beloved Bess, we feel uplifted in stead of downhearted. He may face an impossible task, yet he brings hope to it. And we leave the theater somehow feeling hopeful as well. Hopefulness: Isn’t that one of the main qualities we all yearn for in stories? And when it shines forth, even in the midst of sadness, doesn’t it help light our way?